Nationalism: President Buhari In The Shadow Of Nelson Mandela



The white South African journalist asked Francois Pienaar, the Captain of the South African Rugby team, “the Springboks”, how he felt about the support of the 63,000 South Africans inside the Ellis Park Stadium, venue of the 1995 Rugby World Cup held in South Africa, who witnessed the victory of the Springboks. “This victory is more about the support of the 43 million South Africans that the 63,000 here in Ellis Park represent”, answered Mr Pienaar. He said this with the trophy of the 1995 Rugby World Cup tournament in his hand; the first of its kind for South African.

In that stadium that day were 62,000 Afrikaners, as the white minority population in the country is known, and only 1,000 blacks, majority of whom were government officials, prominent members of the African National Congress (ANC) and Presidential security operatives. These few blacks were inside that stadium particularly concerned, not for the match, but for the safety of President Mandela, who was surrounded by 62,000 of his white antagonists.

During previous rugby tournaments, black South Africans were always in the stadium to boo the Springboks, tainting the game and team as reminders of the apartheid regime, and Nelson Mandela ensured that this attitude of the blacks changed during this tournament. In respect of this presidential opinion, black South Africans boycotted the venue of that tournament, but Madiba’s nationalism and the patriotism he welded amongst the blacks followed him into the Ellis Park stadium. Mandela exited that stadium that day welding the patriotism of the whites also: as they kept chanting “Nelson, Nelson, Nelson… With clutched palms and raised arms.

Strategically, the efforts of the Madiba, as Nelson Mandela was known amongst his people, at resisting the initial resolution by the black dominated South African Sports Commission to scrap the Springbok as a national team because it was dominated by the Afrikaners and later, the failure also of the later demand for the change in the team’s jersey and logo for been the symbol of the Apartheid regime, helped to relieve the suspicions of the Afrikaners. Appearing also at the tournament in Springbok’s colours, with the Springbok’s logo upon his breast, was a defining moment of change for ALL South Africans.

Initially, any black man seen wearing the Springboks jersey was lynched by his fellows, and that was when Mandela was in prison. The Madiba resisted the majority blacks from bearing any grudge against the whites in whatever way, to demonstrate revenge in whatever appearance, for the maltreatments the blacks suffered in the hands of the whites. As much as he resisted his black brothers from exerting their majority rights repressively, he also progressively nudged the minority white to also see South Africa as their own country too. A very fundamental nationalist lessons for President Buhari to learn here.

Funny enough, from the fall of the Apartheid regime to the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, both the blacks and the whites were expectant of the worst relationship between them, including a possible civil war. To the average Afrikaner, the name Nelson Mandela was “bad news”, he was known as the “terrorist” who spent 27 years in prison serving punishment for terrorism. The Afrikaners expected a man who was so terribly treated in prison to be very unforgiving and vindictive; and they got ready for the worst. The period leading to the election of Nelson Mandela as President was therefore a period of great anxiety for the white South Africans. They all expecting a black reprisal, and so did the blacks.

As Nelson Mandela handed him the Rugby World Cup trophy, François Piennar said “…thank you for what you have done for OUR COUNTRY”. I was very emotional watching these events unfold in “Invictus”, the book and the film reflecting that era. Tears welled in my eyes severally, especially observing the unity of purpose that brought an entirely divided nation passionately together. Observing nationalism in close and warm embrace with patriotism, as the defining factors for this drastic and momentous national change, was just too much for me to bear.

This is the spirit by which nations are hooded: the manifest expression of sincere brotherhood. This was how South Africans became World Champions in one evening. That victory defined a momentous unity that sustained and deepened the national bonding between the minority Afrikaners and the majority blacks of South Africa. The positive vision of one man, who lived a life that transcended every shade of bias and distrust, navigated that good course for his countrymen and women. Against the nudge to use only black men as close body security men, Mandela retained and engrafted all white presidential operatives in his service and into his character.

I cried, not for the victory of the “Springboks” in that tournament, nor for any other reason, but for the lesson that South African spirit represents for my country Nigeria. As a whole people rose together to sing the song that unified them – “‘kosi Sikelel’ iAfrica”, the South African national anthem, I cried for my country Nigeria. The question on my mind was: when will our leaders get our nationalism right?

Though black South Africans suffered severe deprivations and limitations during the Apartheid regime, more of their sufferings were caused by their ferocious attitude towards their strange oppressors: the present xenophobic attacks, encouraged by black political and traditional rulers define the average black South African’s ferocious nature; this was what the white minority regime tried to check and contain with the Apartheid regime. However, Nigeria’s case seem quite unique, different and perplexing; the leadership that enjoys sheepish following amongst the people should ensure corporate responsibility and self-accountability.

Understanding the nature and torment of the Apartheid regime, by discounting the fact that that regime’s code-name evolved by the strict limitation of the black majority by the white minority, I observed the same limitations and deprivations meted on the impoverished Nigerian majority under the rule of their minority elites in Nigeria. I feel it was more tolerable and understandable for the South Africans who suffered in the shadow of racism, than for Nigerians, who are suffering under the elites, under the shadow of their imprudent, inept and primitive leadership.

I have observed that President Mohammadu Buhari has stopped appearing in suits and bow ties, as well as in “Etibo”, the Rivers/Bayelsa traditional costumes since he won the March 28 2015 Presidential election. Although this is inconsequential and unnecessary in the face of the onerous tasks Mr President is confronted with, a leader with nationalistic drive will NEVER appear in any manner to deceive his followers by falsely cultivating an attitude he knows he would not sustain.

In the face of this harmless observation and President Buhari’s demonstration of official and appointive preferences for “people he can trust” leaves me with a deep-seated doubt that he understands Nigeria’s need for a nationalist, with the right spirit to propel our crave for a nationalist-driven Change. In view of this, I find his restraint in appointing members of his cabinet as laughable: embracing the risk to his life, Nelson Mandela retained all his Afrikaner close-body guards to the end of his administration. The biggest thief in any body steals by the permission of the person to whom he is responsible.

Corruption is not standing on its head in Nigeria, it is standing on its feet. It is not bottom-up, but top-bottom. A good body derives from a good head. I am therefore perplexed at President Buhari’s delay in appointing cabinet Ministers. This act is self-indicting. In my effort to keep supporting President Buhari until “all knees bow and all tongues confess, I will not fail in commending his successes and to denounce his abysmal showings.

The failure of our leaders to embrace the calling of nationalism compels the people’s patriotic zeal to manifest as sycophancy, and their rebuke as enmity. The lack of a nationalist-leadership in Nigeria voids the patriotic inclinations of her people. Patriotic Nigerians are seen as sycophants purely because our leadership lacks the required nationalist spirit to drive our political administration, so an average Nigerian sees a political supporter as the people’s oppressor, and because of the lack of the nationalistic drive in leadership, he acts as one, even ready to kill for his politician. Nigeria suffers from the systemic failure in leadership.

Until our sectional considerations are consumed by our nationalistic thought-processes…until President Buhari stops appearing in bow ties and suits, or in Etibos, bearing the strange names like Okechukwu, in order to win the hearts of Nigerians only at elections…until Nigerians realise that we can make positive global impact with only the Kutebs in Takum, Taraba State controlling governance in Nigeria…until our mutual suspicion of one another finds restraint in establishing a mutual “sense of belonging”, our leaders would not chart the course to nationalism aright, and the people’s patriotic zeal, no matter how sincerely driven, will be counted for nothing but “eye-service”.

Without trusting one another, we cannot unify our manifest diversities, and the spirit of unity will always elude us as a people. Without trusting one another, our attitudinal corruption will not be “checked and mated”. It is this attitudinal corruption that built the mind bogging images of the mutual suspicions that makes us see ourselves, first, as Hausa/Fulani, Ndigbos, Ijaws, Yorubas, Tivs, Katafs…Muslims, Christians, and not as Nigerians. This was the same mentality between the Afrikaners and the blacks in South Africa but one man – Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela – stood in the gap and changed that mentality among South Africans.

More than the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to advance the South African peace process; more than the demands by President Mandela on majority blacks, on the board of the South African Sports Commission, to tolerate and accept rugby as a national sport, the “Springboks” as their national team and the “green and gold” colour of their jersey; and the inclusion of “perceived enemies” in core governance that demanded political and cultural trust, South Africa earned her national unification by the sense of belonging that the Madiba’s political equation brought every South African. This is the caliber of political equation that now stands President Mohammadu Buhari in the shadow of Nelson Mandela.

More than anything else, President Buhari must know that up till now Nigeria has not had a nationalist-leader since independence. The ones we have had, people like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, were men who only helped to integrate their ethnic groups into the Nigerian nation, but the building of the fabric of our nationhood has remained a mirage upon a desert tar on a hot afternoon. Apart from his passion to “kill corruption” in governance, President Mohammadu Buhari must position himself to become the first post independence Nigerian nationalist.

He has an example in Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela and I hereby recommend “Invictus” for President Buhari’s reading pleasure because he cannot afford to waste his LAST CHANCE at getting Nigeria on the course of political growth and economic recovery: Nelson Mandela did his in less than 4 years without any prior experience in national leadership involving the Afrikaners. President Buhari stands on a better ground to succeed as a nationalist, but he has not started well enough.


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